PEOPLE dialling 999 to report a fire in North Yorkshire could find themselves talking to control room staff in the West Country.

Members of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority yesterday unanimously backed plans for control rooms in the county and in Cornwall to collaborate in handling calls at busy times, such as during flooding.

It claimed the move could make them more efficient and effective, with the 300-mile distance between the two reducing the likelihood of both areas having a major incident such as flooding at the same time.

However, it is understood the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) has raised concerns, suggesting the lack of local knowledge could affect response times.

A report to the authority said both counties were large rural areas, which normally had low levels of calls and struggled to cope well with the volume of calls during major incidents.

It said when there are a high number of 999 calls, the arrangement would reduce the possibility of the service failing to provide a critical response to an incident.

It said a fully networked system could also mean that short-term staff absence in one control room could be offset by normal or additional staffing in the other.

The report said there would be reduced staffing levels in place from April 1 in North Yorkshire, with three staff leaving on voluntary redundancy and a further member of staff transferring to a wholetime firefighter post.

Coun Ken King, a York representative on the fire authority, said he rejected arguments that staff in Cornwall would be hampered by a lack of knowledge of North Yorkshire.

He said new technology would make a big difference. For example, when a 999 call came in to the Cornish control room from someone in North Yorkshire, staff would instantly be able to tell where the call was made from and also where the nearest available fire engine and crew were based.

He said while the scheme had been approved in principle, there were still details to be finalised and the changes would not take effect immediately.